From the late 1960s to the 1990s, being an environmentalist was not seen as a political issue. Environmentalism has only recently become a partisan fight. The first EPA administrator, William D. Ruckleshaus reminds us “Well, when EPA was created…by President Nixon’s recommendation to the Congress, the issue of the environment was a very nonpartisan, bipartisan issue. There wasn’t a lot of dispute over the need to protect public health, protect the environment.”The EPA was formed in 1970 by a republican Nixon administration, democratic President Jimmy Carter signed Superfund into law in 1980. Even republican President George H. W. Bush ran on a platform of environmentalism, criticizing his opponent Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis on the state of Boston’s Harbor.
So why has environmentalism become a partisan issue? It’s partially because of Republican’s stance regarding government interference in industry. Now that things aren’t as bad as when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, or a Donora, Pennsylvania smog that left 20 people dead, or Picher, Oklahoma, a town that was evacuated because of extensive lead poisonings and even cave ins on people’s property. These specific events can all be pointed to as examples of what needed to change. Climate change is a completely different ball game. There isn’t a fulcrum point that can be referenced as the turning point. It’s kind of like proving that a chemical is a carcinogen. It takes YEARS and extensive testing to get a chemical into Group 1 of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s list.
Why is that important, you might ask. Because people drawing attention to the problems of climate change are often brushed off by those who have a stake in denying it. They face backlash over their tactics and are often labeled ‘eco-terrorists.’ This strong wording has linked environmental activists with those who targeted the World Trade center on 9/11 and continue to target innocent individuals all over the world.